As North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre managing director Timothy E. Locklear mentions in his director’s notes for NRACT’s latest offering, Gay Card, this world-premiere musical’s story “can apply to each person, for we all must discover who we are becoming as an adult.” Because of that wide appeal, the show fits into the coming-of-age genre, yet its focus on the story of college-age students embracing their sexuality gives it a different spin — and premiering it during LGBTQ Pride Month is perfect timing. Gay Card is heartwarming, fresh, and funny, a musical meant for a bigger stage than the small one at NRACT.
Ryan Korell (music) and Jonathan Keebler (book and lyrics), two New York City writers, created this musical as a “love letter to many things we adore: early ’00s coming-of-age stories, late ’90s boy bands, emotional belting, unlikely romances, and tales of lasting friendship.” The story of gay high schooler, Logan (Collin Dunn), arouses laughter at his first-year-college experiences, as well as the gay stereotypes that he encounters.
Innocent and rather geeky Logan enters college with his best friend, the bookworm-scholar Melanie (Miranda Millang), and soon finds himself ensconced at Diversity House, under the “protection” of the resident assistant, sassy and sarcastic Danielle (Chelsey Winstead). Logan and Melanie feel that they’re not like the others at the house and find themselves trying to figure out where they fit in.
As Logan tries to redefine himself, he sings about “What It Feels Like to Belong,” and meets some of the other kids who are now part of his college experience. Graham (Shane de Leon) is a guy who appears comfortable in his own skin (and even sings about his own self-acceptance). Cory (Patrick Scott Holt) is a flamboyant person who pushes Logan out of his comfort zone, and July (Charleigh Smith) is a strong lesbian who’s attracted to Melanie.
During their interactions, a type of Greek chorus made up of three bloggers (Melanie Carviou, Brent Blakesley, and Camden Trimmer) who represent the “Gay Card Blog,” acts as a type of mirror, reflecting the trials and tribulations the students are experiencing.
As a whole, this musical is a fresh look at the coming-out experience, without the angst-ridden moments of dealing with friends and family who might not understand. It’s the true definition of adolescence and defining oneself as an adult. The songs are spirited and challenging, especially to the young voices singing them. The music ranges from pop tunes that one might hear on the radio to anthemic songs that demand a range from baritone to falsetto.
Some of the actors meet the challenges of the music and exceed them, such as Shane de Leon, whose voice is smooth and powerful; but others struggle and sour notes are sprinkled throughout the performance. The actors’ passion is evident, however; and one suspects the music, rather than the singers, is at fault. Perhaps, a more seasoned group of singers could meet the demands of the extensive range each song employs.
Bright spots appear throughout the performance and the production’s sense of humor is infectious. Collin Dunn’s Logan is both goofy and determined, totally believable and warm-hearted. Aidan Hansen’s Justin, the straight guy trying to expand his horizons by moving into Diversity House, steps beyond the stereotypical jock and teaches some of his friends the value of opening up to other possibilities. Chelsey Winstead’s Danielle is raucous, devil-may-care, and hilarious; and Melanie Carviou’s (Blog Three) voice shines, though her role is secondary.
Though the first half is too long (13 songs) and could be edited, the story flows well, and the music/dance numbers are well done. For a small production, this show has promise, incredible heart, and a contemporary message that separates it from the pack. It’s a perfect celebration, not only of gay pride but of the poignant struggle each adolescent goes through on the way to becoming an adult who is, as Graham points out, “comfortable in his own skin.”
You can see Gay Card at NRACT through Sunday, June 23rd.
SECOND OPINION: June 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9461; June 7th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interview with NRACT managing director Timothy E. Locklear a nd playwright and lyricist Jonathan Keebler, conducted by Lena Tillett: https://www.wral.com/gay-card-opens-limited-run-at-n-raleigh-arts-and-creative-theater/18437483/; and June 5th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/culture/stage/gay-card-nract-review/.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents GAY CARD, a world-premiere musical by Ryan Korell and Jonathan Keebler, at 3 p.m. June 9, 8 p.m. June 14 and 15, 3 p.m. June 16, 8 p.m. June 21 and 22, and 3 p.m. June 23 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $22 ($20 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $15 per ticket on Sunday.
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, email@example.com, or https://nract.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S1H00000SKL2UUAX.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/gay-card/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/north-raleigh-arts-and-creative-theatre/gay-card-the-musical/383589099150328/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Gay Card (2018 musical): https://www.gaycardmusical.com/ (official website).
Ryan Korell (New York, NY composer): https://ryankorell.com/ (official website), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9854024/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ryankorell (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/ryankorell (Twitter page).
Jonathan Keebler (Queens, NY playwright and lyricist): http://www.jonathankeebler.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/jkeebler (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/jkkeebler (Twitter page).
Timothy E. Locklear (Wake Forest, NC director and managing director of NRACT): http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/492075-timothy-e-locklear (AbouttheArtists.com bio) and https://www.facebook.com/telock335 (Facebook page).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.